In the wake of a recent announcement by the Ontario Soccer Association – in 2014, it is launching a standards-based high performance youth soccer league in the province called the Ontario Player Development League – there has been a great deal of discussion and debate regarding the value of national coaching licences. The league requires all head coaches to have a national coaching licence; either a CSA 'B' licence, a USSF 'B' licence or a UEFA 'B' licence.
Critics argue that there are many fine coaches involved in competitive youth soccer in Ontario who will be unable to continue coaching the province's best young players because they do not have a national coaching licence.
That argument seems peculiar, though. How can it be a bad thing if we replace untrained, unqualified coaches with trained, qualified ones? If, as parent, you are paying for your child to play soccer, don't you want them to be taught by a trained, qualified coach?
I know I do.
Critics also argue that just because a coach has acquired a national coaching licence, it doesn't mean that they are a good coach. They suggest that getting the licence is more about following the rules and ticking the boxes of what the assessors are looking for, rather than demonstrating a genuine ability to teach players.
I'll concede that point, to a certain extent.
I'm sure coaches exist whom, after acquiring a national licence, go out on the pitch and behave like the character played by Will Ferrell in the movie 'Kicking & Screaming'. But my experience tells me that those examples are the exceptions, rather than the norm.
Most coaches who sign up to take a national coaching licence do so with an open mind and a thirst for knowledge – they genuinely want to learn how to become a better coach. They want to become better so that they can make the game more enjoyable for their players, and can do a better job of teaching them the skills they need to succeed.
The mantra that gets repeated on virtually every coaching course goes like this: "Acquiring this licence does not mean that you are a great coach. It means that your education has begun." I'm sure that similar mantras exists in other professional careers.
Lawyers do not become adept at practicing law the instant they pass the bar exam, nor do doctors become world-renowned surgeons the moment they complete their residency. It takes years of dedication and practice in order to hone those abilities; acquiring the necessary licence to practice those professions is simply the first step on the long road to success.
Coaching is no different. Acquiring a national coaching licence is not the end of a coach's education and skill training; it is the beginning. If critics think that mandating that the coaches working with our most talented young soccer players have a national coaching licence is a bad thing, then they are probably in favour of maintaining the status quo – which requires little more than the coach has a heartbeat.
Participation-based coaching certifications – where all a coach has to do is attend a course and they will receive their certificate – is the current requirement to coach the best young soccer players in Ontario.
And that simply isn't good enough. Not by a long shot.